What is MLA documentation style?

From LitWiki

MLA Documentation Style, or simply MLA style, is used in the humanities when you need to give credit to any source — a book, web page, article, CD-ROM, lecture — outside your own head. Use MLA documentation style when

  • attributing a passage within your essay to someone else — “parenthetical citation”
  • listing works used in your essay — “works cited.”

Basic MLA Style

Parenthetical citations appear within the body of your essay when you use — or cite — someone else’s ideas from another source. Use a parenthetical citation when

  • paraphrasing — using your own words to explain another’s ideas
  • quoting — using another’s exact words

Another’s ideas within your essay — whether quoted or paraphrased — must be cited in parentheses containing only the author’s name and page number before the period:

Rushdie believes that “redescribing the world is the first step towards changing it” — to replace the migrant’s “triple disruption” of place, language, and social norms with a new language of displacement and mongrelization (Prasch 312).

This example tells the reader that this idea comes from page 312 of the work by Prasch.

If the source’s author is named within the text (in this case “Jussawalla”), only the page number need be cited:

Jussawalla suggests that Rushdie is disavowing any solidarity with people of the Third World because he has essentially become assimilated into a British colonial citizen and has adopted an Orientalist perspective (112-4).

If more than one source by the same author is used, use an abbreviated form of the work’s title:

He was accepted by the whites: “he fooled them into thinking that he was okay, he was people like us” (Verses 43).

For a complete guide to MLA style consult the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers or your course handbook.


Endnotes — not footnotes — are used only for comments or explanation, never for citation. A Works Cited page appears at the end of the document. References are given in alphabetical order and the names of books either underlined or italicized (preferably the latter if you are using a computer); whichever you choose, use it consistently throughout. Also, the second line should be indented one inch (hard to do in HTML).

Works Cited page

Citing Books

Citations for books on the works cited page follow this general order:

  1. Author: Last name first, followed by a period
  2. Title: Articles and short works in quotation marks and long works in italics followed by a period
  3. Publication city followed by a colon
  4. Publisher followed by a comma
  5. Date: year published followed by a period

Book Examples

Rushdie, Salman. The Satanic Verses. New York: Viking/Penguin, 1988.
Kennedy, X.J., Dorothy M. Kennedy, and Sylvia A. Holladay, eds. The Bedford Guide for College Writers. 3rd ed. Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin Press, 1993.

Citing Articles

Citations for articles in periodicals or books follow this general order:

  1. Author: Last name first, followed by a period
  2. Title of article in quotation marks followed by a period within the closing quotation mark
  3. Title of the periodical italicized
  4. Volume and number of periodical
  5. Year in paretheses followed by a colon
  6. Pages of article followed by a period

Article Examples

Jussawalla, Feroza. “Resurrecting the Prophet: The Case of Salman, the Otherwise.” Public Culture 2.1 (1989): 106-117.
Prasch, Thomas. “Contested Ground: Center and Margin in Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses.” West Virginia University Philological Papers 38 (1992).

Citing Web Sites

Citations for web sites follow a general order (this information is taken from the MLA site; I would have used a link, but the site designers decided to make it impossible to link directly to the information). Note that most citations will not include much of the following:

  1. Name of the author, editor, compiler, or translator of the source
  2. Title of a poem, short story, article, or similar short work within a scholarly project, database, or periodical (in quotation marks); or title of a posting to a discussion list or forum (taken from the subject line and put in quotation marks), followed by the description Online posting
  3. Title of a book underlined
  4. Name of the editor, compiler, or translator of the text (if relevant and if not cited earlier), preceded by the appropriate abbreviation, such as Ed.
  5. Publication information for any print version of the source
  6. Title of the scholarly project, database, periodical, or professional or personal site (underlined); or, for a professional or personal site with no title, a description such as “Home page”
  7. Name of the editor of the scholarly project or database (if available)
  8. Version number of the source (if not part of the title) or, for a journal, the volume number, issue number, or other identifying number
  9. Date of electronic publication, of the latest update, or of posting
  10. For a work from a subscription service, the name of the service and — if a library is the subscriber — the name and city (and state abbreviation, if necessary) of the library
  11. For a posting to a discussion list or forum, the name of the list or forum
  12. The number range or total number of pages, paragraphs, or other sections, if they are numbered
  13. Name of any institution or organization sponsoring or associated with the Web site
  14. Date when the researcher accessed the source
  15. Electronic address, or URL, of the source (in angle brackets); or, for a subscription service, the URL of the service's main page (if known) or the keyword assigned by the service

Web Site Examples

Victorian Women Writers Project. Ed. Perry Willett. Apr. 1997. Indiana U. 26 Apr. 1997 http://www.indiana.edu/~letrs/vwwp/.
Lancashire, Ian. Home page. 1 May 1997 http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/~ian/.
Landsburg, Steven E. “Who Shall Inherit the Earth?” Slate 1 May 1997. 2 May 1997 http://slate.msn.com/default.aspx?id=2038.

Composition FAQ